A brief history
(Posted on 31/07/13)
It is impossible to say with any degree of certainty exactly when, where or by whom the first pile rugs were made. The materials of rug-making are considerably more perishable than those of other types of artefact and consequently very few examples have survived from before the 15th and 16th centuries. The earliest substantial collection of pile fabrics in existence, which dated from between the 5th and 10th centuries AD, was excavated from burial grounds of Akhmim and Faiyum in Egypt, and other specimens from the same period have been found throughout Turkey, Central Asia and other parts of the Orient. However, there is a considerable amount of literary and pictorial evidence pointing to the existence of a flourishing tapestry and pile-weaving tradition, stretching from Greece through into Central Asia, which is at least 3,000, and possibly 5,000 years old. Oriental rugs were probably brought into Spain by the Moorish invaders during the 11th and 12th centuries, but it was until the 14th century that Italian merchants, trading with Anatolia (Turkey) and the Near East, introduced them into most of Europe. The items they brought back were both exotic and expensive, and soon became highly prized by the European aristocracy and wealthier members of the rapidly expanding merchant class. By the 15th century, a steady supply of Anatolian, and perhaps Caucasian and Tukoman rugs were imported by Venetian. It was a source of great prestige to have one's portrait painted while sitting on, or standing near an Anatolian rug, and numerous examples of this can be seen in pictures of Simone Martini and other artists of the period. By the late 15th and early 16th centuries the fashion for oriental rugs had spread throughout most of Europe. Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey were among the first to import them into England, and the painter Hans Holbein has since had a particular type of design named after him because of the number of items it featured in portraits of Henry and the English Court. Similarly, the Flemish painter Hans Memlinc provides ample pictorial evidence of the passion for oriental rugs in the Netherlands and Northern Europe.